Life saver

• Surgeon Mark Duncan-Smith treats a young burns victim in Vanuatu. Photo supplied

CONFUCIUS said “give a man a bowl of rice and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to grow his own rice and you will save his life”.

Teaching a skill can save many lives, says Mark Duncan-Smith, a burns and plastic reconstruction surgeon.

The East Fremantle local is not long back from his seventh trip to Vanuatu where he volunteers 10 days a year, passing on his 20 years of know-how to local surgeons through not-for-profit organisation Interplast.

“I do complex burns reconstruction on burnt children, and also teach local surgeons to do more complex surgery,” he says.

“That way they can do more and more while we are not there.”

He recently treated a four-year-old girl with acute burns to 10 per cent of her body.

While tragic for the little girl, it was an opportunity to show local surgeons how to treat a major, acute burns immediately, something not normally done in Vanuatu.

“Because of the fear of life-threatening blood loss these patients are typically not operated on for months, resulting in painful ongoing dressings and long term problems with burns contracture.

The girl went home three weeks later, with every chance of no further surgery.

The practice of not treating burns immediately can lead to serve limb restrictions, aptly demonstrated by a six-year-old who Dr Duncan-Smith treated on a previous trip.

“He came in doing an almost-half Cossack dance, because he couldn’t straighten his legs.”

After what is considered a “routine” procedure for Australian surgeons, the boy was able to walk again.

Dr Duncan-Smith played a major part in treating Bali Bombing and Ashmore Reef burns patients, and is vice president of the AMA in WA.

Interplast is a collaboration of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons and Royal Australian College of Surgeons. To donate go to interplast.org.au

by JENNY D’ANGER 

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